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Revealed: The top 10 most annoying office noises

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Noise in the office environment is severely damaging the productivity of British businesses, research shows. 

Chatty co-workers, crunching crisps and slamming doors are familiar irritations in the workplace, but this research, from Avanta Serviced Office Group, shows that rather than just being ignored, these everyday distractions have a significant impact on productivity and staff motivation.

The findings underscore the relationship between the working environment and business productivity. This is particularly significant in open plan offices, where seven out of ten office workers say they are affected. In fact, a third of workers have even been driven out of the office due to excessive noise; working from home or going to a local café or library instead.

“The sound around us has a powerful effect on our psycho-physiological state, as well as on our cognitive ability and our social behaviour,” says Julian Treasure, Chairman of The Sound Agency, and an expert in how sound affects workers. 

Treasure advises that noisy workspaces may need damping down to the ideal level of 45-55 dB, while very quiet spaces may need masking sound to create some privacy and reduce distraction when colleagues take calls or converse. “Masking sounds are typically low density, requiring little attention, and pleasing to work in. Examples could be birdsong or gentle flowing water,” he explains.

What are the most annoying office noises? Here is a list of the top ten:

  1. Conversations/gossip (42 per cent)
  2. Loud phone voices (33 per cent)
  3. Coughing/sneezing/sniffing (38 per cent)
  4. Ringing phones (28 per cent)
  5. Loud snacking/crisp packets (18 per cent)
  6. Whistling (17 per cent)
  7. Rhythmic tapping on the desk/floor (15 per cent)
  8. Slamming doors (14 per cent)
  9. Bad music on the radio (14 per cent)
  10. Music spilling out of colleagues’ headphones (14 per cent)
  11. Loud typing (12 per cent)

“The effect of simple technology like sound absorbing panels, or even altering the orientation of a room, can turn an unworkable space into somewhere fit for function,” says Chris Adair, MD of Adair Acoustic Design. 

“By considering sound as an integral part of the workplace and taking some simple steps to mitigate the issues related to open plan working, employers will create a more motivated and productive workforce”.

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